Joseph supplants Howard at first base

Joseph supplants Howard at first base

WASHINGTON -- After more than a decade in the center of the Phillies' lineup, Ryan Howard is officially out as the club's primary first baseman.

Manager Pete Mackanin spoke to Howard before Friday's game and told the veteran that the hot-hitting Tommy Joseph would get the bulk of the playing time at first base moving forward. Joseph hit two home runs in the Phillies' 9-6 loss to the Nationals on Friday, and he now has seven homers in 65 at-bats since being called up May 13.

"I can't sit Tommy Joseph," Mackanin said. "You can't say enough about Tommy Joseph. He looks like the real deal, and it's great to have him here."

When Joseph came up last month, the Phillies planned to use him against lefties and Howard against righties. But as Howard struggled (he's hitting .150 on the season) and Joseph stayed hot, Mackanin was forced to give the 24-year-old rookie more opportunities.

So on Friday, the manager summoned Howard to his office and told him Joseph would be playing every day.

"He was low-key about it," Mackanin said. "I'm sure he's not happy about it, but he didn't have a whole lot to say. You can't argue about Tommy Joseph."

Joseph celebrated his promotion by hitting two home runs Friday, one off right-handed starter Stephen Strasburg and the other off left-handed reliever Felipe Rivero. Joseph has now homered four times in his last four starts.

Joseph raved about Howard's mentorship, saying the three-time All-Star has been supportive of him throughout the last month, even as they competed for playing time.

"He's the best," Joseph said. "He's been great, very easy to talk to. He's been there for me every step of the way. Whenever I need anything, he's there. He's a good guy to learn from, too. Obviously the guy has been in the game for over a decade now, so he's seen a lot of different things, and he's a guy I can go talk to about certain situations in the game."

In many ways, Howard's demotion was a long time coming. His numbers have dropped gradually since his mid-2000s peak, when he won 2006 National League MVP Award, with his OPS falling to .704 in 2014 and '15 and .559 in 2016. With Joseph hitting .323/.333/.677, it was time for a change.

Mackanin said he would look to get Howard pinch-hit opportunities and give the veteran spot starts from time to time. The manager said benching someone who has accomplished as much as Howard is not ideal but that he felt he had no choice.

"I flat-out don't like it," Mackanin said. "I don't like to have to deal with it because of what he's done for the organization over the years. Once again, this is another year where we're looking to the future, and Tommy Joseph looks like he's going to be in the future."

Alex Putterman is a reporter for MLB.com based in Washington and covered the Phillies on Friday. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.